Son Trach is the embodiment of nowhere. Luscious green palm leaves are bending in the wind as we drive along a muddy street in our taxi and catch a first glimpse of our destination. Water buffalos are standing still on flooded rice fields. Every once in a while we hear the rattling engine of an accommodating scooter. A rain poncho made from thin plastic is hanging from a tree at the side of the street and fluttering in the wind. It is nearly noon. The village is still covered in thick fog. One by one, the houses emerge from the mist as we drive by. I open the car window. It is humid and warm in the middle of nowhere.
It has been raining ever since we left Hanoi on the evening before. Now, it finally begins to cease. Large drops of water, remnants of the recent rainfall, are still dripping down from high trees on which climbers elongate into the air.
Son Trach is situated in Central Vietnam, 18 miles from the border of Laos to the West and 18 miles from the sea in the other direction. It’s a mountainous area which is one explanation for the bad weather. The clouds concentrate in the mountains. We also learn that some days ago, a typhoon has raged over the area. Traces of destruction are visible everywhere: Mudslides on the streets, bent trees and big puddles and dirt in front lawns.
There are barely any other tourists, but that’s not due to the weather. Those who come here usually don’t stay in Son Trach longer than a few hours anyway – if they even make it to the village. They are on day tours to Phong Nha-Ke Bang, the Natural World Heritage site whose cave system is said to reach far into Laos – although beyond the border there is no official exit. The park is home to the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong, 21.263 feet long and up to 656 feet high. It was discovered only 20 years ago. It is still unclear if the cave will ever regularly be opened for tourists.
The Lonely Planet Vietnam devotes just one page to Son Trach and Phong Nha-Ke Bang. It lists a few hostels and two farmstays. There’s nothing else but that. The latter are situated a short distance from the village on a hill, one of them, Lake House, has only recently opened. This is where we find a room.
It is a rare occasion that an insider’s tip from a travel guide really is an insider’s tip. This one exceeds expectations.
Tham, our landlady, tells us that over at the other farmstay they don’t have electricity at the moment as the storm has destroyed a pylon. Even the rats, Tham says, have taken shelter on trees during the massive rainfalls of the last days.
In the afternoon, we get ourselves two bikes and drive to the village where there’s even more mud and dirt on the streets. The fog hasn’t lifted at all. At least there’s no more rain. It’s as close to dry as it can get with all the mist that’s surrounding us. Since the river Son has flooded its banks we have to cross some deep ponds on the streets.
We get a lot of attention. Not only because we dared to leave the house in this weather but because we are white. A bunch of kids follow us, they wave at us from little front porches as we pass and greet us with the few English words they know. We wave back at them. A herd of Water Buffalos trudges lazily through the mud along the river. Men and Women sweep mud off their porches and curiously watch us pass by. We are an attraction.
The National Park isn’t far from the village. Just a few yards on the highway. Yes, it’s even possible to ride a bike on the highway here. Back at home you’d call this village a goddamn one horse town.
But we are surrounded by beautiful nature, a river, a handful of huts. This is the middle of nowhere. But we like it very much.